Gourmet's 50 Women Game Changers in Food: # 44, Nigella Lawson

Nigella Lawson is the daughter of Nigel Lawson, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Vanessa Salmon, a socialite, celebrated beauty and heiress to the J. Lyons & Co. fortune. She reports her mother was the kind of cook whose food tasted fine, but she didn't bother with appearance and never consulted a cookbook in her life.
"When I was growing up my mother had eating disorders. Thinness mattered a lot to her. It was anorexia and a period of bulimia, I think, I can’t be sure. She became a pusher of food and family meals were a source of great stress, an endless power struggle. I vowed I was never going to be  like that."

Nigella worked for Harrods in her student days, which she liked because of the "feeling of belonging" it gave her. Lawson did a lot of reading and wanted to write the great novel of the 20th century. She has often spoken
 about how unconfident and melancholic she was as a youngster; how dumpy and lonely she felt. 
"My parents were very young, and more interested in each other than in us." 

Nigella eventually secured a place at Oxford to read Medieval and Modern Languages, achieving a Masters degree in the subject.

Nigella was indirectly helped by her father and his Tory colleagues in her chosen career: she joined the Sunday Times literary team. In 1986, she became the deputy literary editor of The Sunday Times, before turning freelance and writing for such publications as The Guardian and Daily Telegraph. It was when Charles Moore, then editor of the Spectator, asked her to write about something else that she first stumbled into food. She became the magazine's restaurant critic.

During her time with the Sunday Times, Lawson met journalist John Diamond who was also writing for The Times. They married in Venice in 1992 and had two children together: Cosima and Bruno.

Lawson conceived the idea of writing a cook book after she observed a dinner party host in tears because of an unset crème caramel. How to Eat was subsequently written in 1998. Then, the idea for the first TV show came about because a glossy UK magazine wanted to run an excerpt.
Nigella: "The book had no pictures, so we did a shoot in my home for the magazine. We really had fun; I had my kids there, and one photo was my feet in shocking-pink kitten heels, and some were of food, and the whole feel of it was warm and messy and fun."  The Nigella Bites series won Lawson a Guild of Food Writers Award. She went on to write her second book in 2000, How to be a Domestic Goddess, winning her the British Book Award for Author of the Year.

It was at this point in her career that that illness struck her family. Her husband John died in 2001 after battling cancer for over four years. She had also lost both her mother and sister to cancer in the late 90's. Grief is never over, she maintains.

Back to work, Nigella repeated her successful TV series and book formula in 2002, with 'Forever Summer'.
Nigella married the art lover and collector, Charles Saatchi, in 2003.
'Nigella Feasts' aired in the US in autumn 2006 and she then signed a contract with BBC for a three-part series 'Nigella's Christmas Kitchen', which aired weekly in December of 2006. This show enjoyed record ratings and Nigella was awarded a second World Food Media award in 2007. 

We all enjoy watching her and as a result, her career continues successfully.

"Men like to look at her, women want to be her. She's the woman who has it all - the career, the children, the looks, a rich art dealer for a husband, her own TV show. She is a media celebrity, much photographed, everything from the death of her first husband to her waistline pored over by the press. She loves food, doesn't torment herself dieting, and mostly gets away with it." 

If you'd like a list of her cookbooks, check

Nigella comments: 

On Mirrors: "I am not a mirror person," she says. She only ever looks at herself a small section at a time, and then only if she has to, as when doing make-up. "Why would you want to look in the mirror? If you feel good about yourself, go on that, because you're never going to look as good as you feel. And when you feel bad about yourself, you don't really want to have any evidence."
On cookbooks: I am a complete food book junkie. I now have over 4,500 food books and I love reading them.
On celebrity: "When people call me a celebrity chef, I just feel like I'm going to commit suicide." Strictly speaking, Nigella isn't a celebrity chef because she isn't a chef. But she is at very least a celebrity cook. No, she suggests, that's wrong. There's something different, finer, more philosophical, to what she does. There is so much more to food than food, she says. "Food is about how people see themselves, it's about life. The thing I liked about writing about food when I started it was that I felt I was writing about food in a different way. Not like a food writer." 
On Eating: “I love eating, I adore food and when I’m not cooking I’m probably thinking about it, but that doesn’t mean to say that I eat indiscriminately or incessantly. I’m not a constant grazer, I like to sit down and have a meal, I eat food that’s delicious, but I do fall down on portion control. I eat very healthily; I just eat for five healthy people…”


These muffins sound wonderful, don't they? And they look good too. I've always loved Welsh Rarebit and this was such a novel idea for a brunch muffin I couldn't resist. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the recipe. A couple notes: increase the cheese in the muffin batter to 3/4 cup. And find a really fine sharp English cheddar. I used an American sharp cheddar, probably not the best choice. The muffins just didn't have enough flavor. No zip. I'll try them one more time using not only more, but a finer quality cheddar. And perhaps increase the dry mustard a tad.

Welsh-Rarebit Muffins
Recipe courtesy Nigella Lawson

For the muffins:
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1/3 cup rye flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon English mustard powder
Generous 1/2 cup grated sharp Cheddar
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons plain whole-milk yogurt
1/2 cup whole milk
1 egg
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
For the topping:
2 tablespoons grated sharp Cheddar
Worcestershire sauce, for garnish
Special equipment: 12-cup muffin pan lined with 12 paper baking cups 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Mix the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, mustard powder and cheese in a large bowl with a fork. In a large measuring cup, beat together the remaining ingredients. Pour into dry ingredients, mixing lightly with your fork, remember that good muffins are made from lumpy batter.
Pour into muffin cups and cook for 20 minutes, then quickly take them out of the oven and put a little cheese and sprinkling of Worcestershire sauce on each one. Put them back in the oven for another 5 minutes, and then put the muffins on a baking sheet to cool. Eat them while they are still warm but not hot. 

Join Mary from One Perfect Bite and all the other participants in this fun series.


  1. Nigella's recipes never disappoint. I so enjoyed reading this brief bio of her!

  2. Love Nigella, we have all her books on the shelf and i ip into them all the time.
    Haven't made these muffins, they have to go on the list for sure.
    ciao from rainy Positano

  3. Loved your bio Barbara. I did not know her back story. Again thank you for participating is this venture. I look forward to it every Friday.

  4. Welsh Rarebit was a favourite of mine a s a child so a natural progression would be to move over to these delicious muffins.

  5. Scrummy muffins! Nigella Lawson's recipes are always very tempting.



  6. The muffins sound good but I will take your advice on the cheese...both the amount and the type.

  7. I love her take on mirrors and feel vindicated with my (seemingly) paltry amount of cookbooks knowing that Lawson has over 4,500! These muffins are wonderfully English - and savory and all things good.

  8. they do look delicious. i wonder if replacing half of the dairy with ale or beer would make them tastier--more welsh rarebit like?


  9. So many things I didn't know about Nigella. I one of those women who love her.

  10. I will never think of Nigella without thinking of the photo you shared with me of 2 woman of the same age... Nigella and a health-food/yoga person. Nigella looked radiant and plump and the other woman haggard and old. Nigella loves life and it shows in everything she does. Her food descriptions are really insanely good... she could make gruel sexy (I know I've said it before but it's true!).
    Too bad the muffins weren't quite right... I think you had a good instinct about the cheese... Neal's Yard Cheddars are very rich and so good... they would add much to the recipe. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and spend the extra bucks (like $28 a pound!!!).

    Great piece on Nigella, Barbara. She would smile that great cat smile of hers reading it.

  11. All those books! I don't feel so greedy. These muffins would be lovely for brunch. Thanks for all the great info:)

  12. I'm enjoying reading about Nigella's life on a few blogs this morning. I like her take on her celebrity. Too bad the muffins missed the mark. They look delicious, and the recipe sounds like a great idea.

  13. I really need to get at least one of Nigella's books some day. Her recipes always sound inspiring.

    Too bad about the lack of flavor for these muffins though. They sure do sound intriguing. How about a touch of fire, I'm thinking red pepper flakes for some reason:)

    Thanks so much for sharing, Barbara. I'm sure you will tweak this recipe to your liking:)

  14. Lovely muffins. You picked a great recipe to showcase Nigella. Thanks for sharing with us.

  15. What a wonderful cheesey savory muffin! I love changing up muffins (and in my blog's case, scones) from the usual sweet and fruity affair to something with a spicy and cheesey tang! With that salad, it looks like a wonderful luncheon!

  16. Hi Barbara,

    I love Nigella, and that she is not afraid to use cream and things that make food, taste good.
    I have two of her books which I enjoy cooking from. The muffins will be tasty and thanks for sharing the recipe.

    Have a happy weekend

  17. Thank you for trying this recipe and giving us your tips to make them even more flavorful.

  18. great recipe very British and great write up impressive lady for sure

  19. Good morning Barbara!

    WOW. What a story. When you look at celebrities, you are not always in tune with the fact that they too have fragile moments in life where things just don't turn out, or death and grief come too quickly. But what is striking is the continuation of LIVING on with success and courage. Barbara, thank you for your kind comments my dear. It is ALSO NICE to be able to get to your blog now from your profile! I was never able to do that...changes on Google, I guess!

    These muffins looks DELISH! AND...I am ignorant here, I always thought it was WELSH RABBIT!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Much love and thanks for your insight on how life can be overwhelming....and BEST OF SUCCESS TO YOUR DAUGHTER! I too just got a wonderful invitation from a shop owner here in Minneapolis who is interested in my art! I wasn't even looking for that venue YET!

    Carry on....Anita

  20. She certainly is an amazing woman who has had an incredible career and managed to keep it all together despite periods of terrible grief xx

  21. Sorry those muffins are not up to the expectations. They however do look very tempting.

  22. I made Welsh Rarebits once and I loved their flavors. I am sure these muffins taste as great Barbara!

  23. What a great post! I love welsh rarebits, so I hope I have time to try this soon.

  24. Barbara, these look fantastic and they are a real teaser for one who hasn't eaten since breakfast. You've made me realize I'm hungry. Actually they are light enough that they would be a great late night supper. Thanks for the recipe and the background on Nigella. I'm heading to the kitchen. I hope you have a great weekend. Blessings...Mary

  25. that woman has so much charm and charisma that it almost doesn't matter if her food is outstanding...but it is. :)

  26. Great biography of Nigella, you caught a lot of key aspects of her life so beautifully. Sorry these welsh rarebits disappointed. Hope your adjustments to the recipe work out. Let us know if they do!

  27. What a fun to read synopsis of Nigella and her life. Sorry that the muffins were a disappointment, though.

  28. Hi Barbara, You always give us such excellent biographical info about each Game-Changer, Nigella no exception. I appreciate your pointers about the recipe's downfall, and how to correct. In theory, they sound terrific, and the recipe looks good.

  29. I have never read any of her books, but have always admired her voluptuous and ravishing beauty and poise.



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